ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Vulnerability Levels of Sewerage Workers in Vijayawada Municipal Corporation

The living and working conditions of sewerage workers in the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation were documented through a sample survey of 98 workers. The Other Backward Classes and Other Caste workers outnumbered those from the Scheduled Castes, refuting the caste-based view of this occupation even while reflecting the precarious employment situation of the unskilled in Andhra Pradesh. A sizeable proportion of workers are on contract or on a timescale without any social security benefits. The working conditions, work-induced health disorders, and non-provision of safety equipment at worksites are the main reasons for the vulnerable working conditions. Low levels of education, lack of skills, and limited opportunities in the labour market restrict their mobility vertically and horizontally. About 70% of them reported financial insecurity.

The paper is the outcome of a study on “The Working and Living Conditions of Sewerage Workers in Vijayawada Municipal Corporation,” sponsored by the Social Welfare Department of the Government of Andhra Pradesh. The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. Usual disclaimers apply.

The concept of vulnerability is associated with poverty, but it can also arise when the community is isolated, insecure, and defenceless in the face of risk, shock, or stress (IFRC 2015).1 Those communities/households with a high degree of vulnerability are likely to suffer for long, and it is only with multiple support systems, such as external assistance/safety nets, improved access to resources, quality governance, and skill upgradation, that they can move out of vulnerability (IFRC and PRCS 2001). The term vulnerability encompasses both biophysical and social processes that combine to produce susceptibility to loss and harm and obstacles to recovery (Wisner et al 2012). The household-specific characteristics, including the age of the household head, lack of education, and little access to resources, provide an explanation to the variations in vulnerability levels within a community. Robert Chambers (1983: 112) formally introduced the term vulnerability into the analysis of rural poverty and referred to an interlocking condition of five elements resulting in [a] deprivation trap, a condition of integrated rural poverty from which it is very difficult to extract oneself.2 Vulnerability is, thus, conceptualised as a mix of multiple complex factors that, individually or collectively, exposes its subjects to shocks and limits their capacity to handle/absorb the shocks (Wisner 2016). It is a human condition that is likely to undergo changes (Berzins McCoy 2013). Better insights into the life of vulnerable people, including the constraints they face along with economic and political marginality, are useful for the design of policies to reduce vulnerability (Chambers 1989). The research studies on vulnerable communities should focus on the sources and consequences of vulnerability as well as identify the factors that reduce vulnerability levels.

Anagha Ingole (2016) has shown that one of the most vulnerable worker groups in urban India are scavengers and sewerage workers and that it is the Scheduled Caste (SC) households that are predominantly engaged in this occupation. It was reported that sewerage workers suffer from untouchability and different forms of discrimination. The multiple deprivations facing this communitys workers keep them arrested in chronic poverty. The deplorable working conditions of sewerage/scavenging workers in Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Pune were documented (Planning Commission 2014). The subgroup on safai karamcharis (sanitation workers) for the Twelfth Five Year Plan (201217) had delineated the conditions of these worker households and expressed concern over the issue of human dignity. It underscored, for persons engaged in sewer works, the need for strict implementation of all provisions under various labour laws, additional safety measures given the nature of risk associated with this occupation, welfare measures to bring them on par with others, and technical upgradation and modernisation of the underground drainage system.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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